Davos, Switzerland

Davos Diaries 2024 — A Tale of Badges, Bollywood, and the Entropic Business World

Published in
11 min readJan 18, 2024


The second law of Thermodynamics describes the notion of entropy. It’s the idea that energy, when left to its own devices, diffuses, spreading out across the cosmos, transforming structured systems into disorder and unpredictability.

But what if this law applies not just to isolated systems in physics, but also to organizations, a collection of humans with joint purposes instead of just the inanimate objects?

This tantalizing idea danced through my head as my plane descended into the crisp Zurich air on a January morning, the kind of idea that could either be the spark of genius or the product of a jetlagged induced fog of grand illusions.

As my flight touched down and I embarked on the road to Davos, the playground of the world’s economic movers and shakers (cough elite), I couldn’t help but be taken in by the spectacular beauty of the Swiss landscape. It was as if every mountain, tree and snowflake were placed with the kind of precision that Swiss watchmakers reserve for their finest timepieces.

And since I grew up in India I half-expected, at any moment, to be swept into a Bollywood musical number, the kind where Shahrukh Khan’s outstretched arms bridge the gap between fantasy and reality, and you find yourself dancing, inexplicably, in perfect choreography with strangers.

But I digress.

This was Switzerland after all, not a movie set, and the only dance I was doing today was the teeth-chattering waltz of the unprepared traveler as I stepped out into what the locals might describe as ‘Ballzenfrozen’ — a term that I’m almost certain is German for “Why didn’t you pack a warmer coat in your carry-on baggage you dummy?”

And there, in the frigid embrace of a Swiss winter, my mind wandered back to entropy. Could it be that companies, those clusters of humans with their vision, ambition and order, are subject to the same universal laws that govern the dispersal of energy? As organizations grow from garage startups to global giants, do they too become less ordered, more chaotic?

Sunrise at Davos a day before the WEF 2024 started

These questions promised an adventure of intellectual discovery, a journey through the corporate thermodynamics of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the legendary organization that was holding its 2024 annual meeting and where I was headed. And as I traveled, I pondered the potential of a new framework or a model, one that might just allow us to predict, harness, and maybe even reverse the entropic destiny of organizations. After all, what good of a marketer am I if I cannot even conceptualize and brand a framework and give it my humble name.

In Davos where the air is thin (an altitude of 5,000 feet if you are wondering), the ideas are thick, and the only thing more pervasive than the cold is the belief that, perhaps, we can outsmart the universe’s most fundamental law… or at least convince myself that there is hope for perpetuating simplicity.

In many ways, the World Economic Forum began as a sort of intellectual fondue — rich, a little indulgent, and like my analogies, very cheesy. A gathering hosted by Professor Klaus Schwab in 1971, the first meeting was held around a simple idea — a concept Schwab dubbed “stakeholder capitalism.” It’s the notion that businesses should serve all its stakeholders which includes customers, employees, suppliers, collaborators, as well as the communities the companies operate in — in other words — be as attentive to a receptionist’s dental plan as much as to the stock price of the company.

Over the years, the WEF annual meetings have hosted leaders from all parts of the world and has been credited to avert a war between Greece and Turkey, helped conduct conversations that ultimately led to the end of apartheid in South Africa and created an alliance to vaccinate more than one billion children across the globe.

But as the decades have rolled by, Davos, the idyllic ski town, has undergone a curious transformation. It’s gone from being the world’s boardroom to a corporate winter wonderland.

Picture of Davos in 1871 (hung at the town mall)
Davos 2024

“Almost everyone who owns a building on or near the Promenade, the main street of the town, rents their property out to companies and leaves for a week during WEF,” said a local I happened to chat up at a hotel bar one night. It’s a mass exodus of locals overnight, replaced by a parade of suit clad executives and thought leaders.

One of the houses/chalets on the Promenade

During WEF, the town’s quaint streets transform into a kind of alpine Sunset Boulevard. Small boutique shops and restaurants turn overnight into stages for corporate theater, with every multinational brand, and weirdly some states from India, showcasing their executives and bureaucrats talking about topics ranging from social responsibility to governance of AI (which is a lot this year in 2024).

One of the Indian State Houses on the Promendade in 2024

And so, if you are one of the fortunate (or unfortunate depending on how pessimistic you are about life) ones like me embarking on your maiden voyage to this capitalist carnival, I humbly offer you some knowledge about how to survive and mix and mingle in this town for a week where a few thousand global badge wielding humans congregate every year.

This knowledge helped open my eyes to the mystery of Davos and WEF so I urge and hope you use and pass it along responsibly.

First, the badge.

On Sunday, I headed to the registration center and picked up my badge. Sadly, like me, it was not white. It was brown in color. I was quickly educated that the white badge is only reserved for CEOs and government leaders and delegates. If you are thinking you can start your own company, give yourself a CEO title, and come back next year and grab a white badge, I have news for you my friend and it’s not good. Your company needs to be invited by the WEF in order to qualify for a white badge and if you are lucky enough to be on the invited list then you have to at least shell out the equivalent of one child’s college education fund in the US in order to get your crummy fingers on one of those white badges. I joke, of course (please don’t uninvite me next year!).

I had an affiliate badge, I was told- the sort of colored badge that gives you access to all but 80% of the talks and sessions held at the Congress Center! I am as optimistic as the next person on a boat about to take a leap into the ocean to hunt for sharks but my confidence was shattered the next day when I was headed toward a press meeting at a hotel near the prestigious Congress center. As I walked callously brandishing my affiliate badge I felt like a keyholder to the kingdom — until a security guard, as polished as the Congress’s silverware, kindly directed me to the less privileged path. “White badges only,” he said, and gestured to the other side of the street instantly deflating my confidence and ego. I went from looking like Daniel Craig to Mr Bean in a split second.

As I nursed my bruised pride, a chance encounter with the hierarchy of badges unfolded before me. A gentleman with a hotel badge, the insignia of access to the Congress’s satellite sessions, was halted for a security scan. I, however, was waved through with a nod, my affiliate badge suddenly a symbol of smooth passage. A triumphant grin spread across my face, erasing the morning’s indignity.

So net net about the badges? Here is my take (keep in mind this may change in the future years)

White badge — Good for you. Here is my card, in case you are looking to adopt a middle aged man.

Affiliate badge — You are a normie (hey, at least I am), ordinary yet indispensable (or at least that’s what I think).

Hotel badge — You can go inside of hotels where non core WEF sessions are being held. Be happy. Revel in it.

Media badge — Your access is tailored to ensure you’re where the uplifting stories unfold.

Other badges — I have no clue. Every person to their own. I don’t judge.

Now onto the topic of weather and shoes -

This is probably where I got the most advice before I arrived and I am grateful to everyone who non-condescending told me to be practical and dress for a ski town instead of a dinner with the royalty.

What does it mean? Let’s break it down.

Davos in Jan is typically below freezing point and you have to walk from one building to another for meetings, dining, or attending sessions and events. This means you need to dress up to optimize for both below zero degree outdoors and 60+ degrees within hotels and buildings indoors.

Good looking shoes are important but you know what is more important — not slipping on ice and cracking your skull after you had one too many of those self-congratulatory glasses of champagne (in your white badge nonetheless) while talking about why socialism is important.

Let’s talk about food next. Almost all restaurants in the town are taken over by companies for events so if you are looking to grab lunch or dinner and you don’t have a reservation, I have bad news for you. You are about to go on a liquid diet (may be a good or bad thing depending on how pessimistic you are about life). However, there are a few other options that you can definitely explore depending on the time of the day. This year, for example, there are a couple of trucks in one part of the promenade — a Greek food truck and wait for it — Momos (dumplings from Nepal/India for those who are not aware of this gift to humanity). In addition, you can always go to a Coop store right opposite the trucks where you can buy different kinds of snacks like coffee, wine and Swiss chocolates (there is some bread too in case you are into “that” kind of food). Finally, as you go through sessions and other side events, there are always some small eats that you can grab along the way. However, if you are looking to sit down and have an elaborate lunch or dinner every night, I wouldn’t hold my breath unless you have made reservations and have meetings for every single day you are there.

Momos truck at the Promenade

Now let’s talk about the town. Davos is pretty straight forward in terms of the topography — there is the main street called the Promenade and there is a street that is above it (think of the streets being on the slope of a mountain) and another one below the promenade. Some of the places to know are listed below.

Congress Center — This is closed to 80% of the attendees and only open to white badge holders. Again, congratulations if you have one of these. Right next to the congress is the Hilton Garden Inn and the Belvedere hotel. Then there are other hotels that are either on the Promenade or in the street below it (for example Hard Rock hotel). There are also a number of bars, especially Piano Bars that serve drinks with some late night food like pizzas.

The Belevedere Hotel

If you are still reading this, first of all thank you and second, you have probably noticed a pattern, a trend of how WEF (and consequently this article) has evolved over time.

From simple to complicated.

From predictable to diffused, maybe even a little bit chaotic.

As the World Economic Forum (WEF) continues to evolve, it’s clear that the event is not immune to the universal law of entropy. In the context of WEF, the entropic phase manifests as a burgeoning array of topics, an increasingly diverse set of stakeholders, and a complex web of global challenges that defy simple solutions. The once tightly-focused agenda has expanded to include a myriad of issues, from climate change and economic disparities to technological disruption and geopolitical tensions.

This expansion is not without its benefits. It allows for a richer tapestry of conversations and a more comprehensive approach to problem-solving. The opportunity to meet with customers and prospects, engage in events outside the traditional Congress framework, and even enjoy recreational activities like walking on ice in sub zero temperature looking to get into elite wine tasting events has its own benefits.

However, just as in any entropic system, there is a potential downside. The risk is that the core mission of the WEF — to improve the state of the world — could become diluted amidst the noise of too many voices and competing priorities. The challenge for organizers and participants alike is to navigate this entropic phase without losing sight of the Forum’s foundational goals.

To counteract the entropic forces at play, it is essential for WEF participants to approach the event with clarity and intention. By setting clear objectives, seeking out meaningful connections, and engaging in targeted discussions, attendees can create pockets of order within the chaos. It’s about finding the signal in the noise — identifying those transformative ideas and partnerships that have the power to drive real change.

Poeple milling by different hotels and houses on the Promenade

As the WEF goes through its own entropic phase, it is up to each participant to contribute to the coherence and effectiveness of the Forum. By embracing the complexity while staying focused on actionable outcomes, the WEF community can ensure that this unique gathering continues to be a catalyst for positive global impact. In this way, the very concept of entropy becomes not just a challenge to overcome, but a dynamic force that, if harnessed correctly, can lead to innovation, growth, and the emergence of new order on the other side of complexity.

In case you are wondering, there is a first law of thermodynamics as well and it states that energy cannot be created or destroyed but it can change form. In order to keep systems and organizations simple, and effective, we do need the right form of energy. This is where WEF is headed in my opinion — smaller groups of individuals that come together because of WEF with their own simpler and bolder visions, for example a new urban living concept or equality for AI beings (the second does not exist yet in case you are wondering). There is hope that as we head into a world from a digital to intelligence revolution, humans can continue to come together (and build simpler badging systems) to move all of our species into the next phase of collaboration.



Madhukar Kumar

CMO @SingleStore, tech buff, ind developer, hacker, distance runner ex @redislabs ex @zuora ex @oracle. My views are my own